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Through The Glass DarklyThe Reflection Of Society

Through The Glass Darkly:The Reflection Of Society Essay, Research Paper The arts, whether through words, film, melody or watercolor, have always reflected the society that created them. Within these renditions, the role of the women holds a great importance. Women have long been seen as the silent backbone of the family, and the family is itself the most basic unit of society.

Through The Glass Darkly:The Reflection Of Society Essay, Research Paper

The arts, whether through words, film, melody or watercolor, have always reflected the society that created them. Within these renditions, the role of the women holds a great importance. Women have long been seen as the silent backbone of the family, and the family is itself the most basic unit of society. The interaction of this unit, primarily between husband and wife, is the microcosm for the interplay of man and woman as a whole. The genre of film noir relied heavily on that intercourse to comment on society. The portrayal of women in Touch of Evil, essentially through the roles of Susan Vargas and Tanya, utilized the film noir genre and the concepts surrounding this juncture of Modernism and Post-Modernism to critique gender issues developed by the stereotypes of the time as to the woman’s place in the world.Film noir developed as a Modernist medium but Touch of Evil took place in the ambiguous territory between Modernism and Post-Modernism, an important and underlying facet in the foundation of it’s world view and importance to our analysis. Modernism, as defined by Hassan, is a vertical institution. It has a defined hierarchy, with reliance on a specific structure, synthesis and traditional symbolism. Looking at Lyotard, the reliance on a meta-narrative is present. The meta-narrative is just that, the grand narrative, the big story. The meta-narrative is very much like the Force in the Star Wars series by George Lucas but in this case it serves as the institution that verifies knowledge. Knowledge is the ever-present currency of humanity. Film noir was Modernist because it had a specific meta-narrative, a dark and macabre Force that connected the grand narratives with each other. It also relied on an untraditional structure that was standard for the genre and a particular brand of symbolism. Touch of Evil has a foundation within these norms of the film noir genre but through its deviations from those it also has Post-Modernist aspects. This is scene most specifically through the shift in imagery of the “marrying women” and “femme fatale”. An examination of film noir itself is required before an examination of these themes can continue.Film noir developed as a criticism of society prior to and following World War II that encapsulated the worldview through dark and often disturbing visual images and thematic content. According to most critics, film noir originated with the motion picture The Maltese Falcon in 1941 but the genre did not reach its height until the post war years. Film noir inherently questions and critiques current government and social institutions. One of its favorite targets was women, who represented a key component of the basic family structure, a microcosm for society. At the dawn of the film noir era, women were experiencing new freedoms brought about by the economic necessity created during World War which required women to work outside the home. This freedom transcended to other areas and women were no longer content to remain in their traditional stereotypes. In response, film noir created the “femme fatale”. By the time of Touch of Evil, women had again returned to the home while America was experiencing the baby boom and were increasingly seen as more of a threat towards men from their traditional role of expecting wife and mother. Again, film noir responded with a new role: the “marrying women”. (Blaser)Three types of women were represented through film noir in reference to the women existing in society: the “femme fatale”, the “good women” and the “marrying women”. The “femme fatale” was the most revolutionary of the women represented in film noir. She refused the traditional role of women in society. She denied marriage and reveled in sexual freedom. In fact her sensuality is one of her defining characteristics, coupled with her strength of character and fierce independence. The nature of the “good women” drastically contrasts this independence and strong will of the “femme fatale.” The “good women” embraces her traditional role and stereotype. She is what society wants the man to have, but on screen she is boring and unattractive in comparison to the “femme fatale”. The last woman to shadow the film noir is the “marrying woman”. Historically, the “femme fatale” was a reflection of those women who worked during the war and were reluctant to return to their humble labors within the home. In the late 40’s and into the 50’s a new woman emerged that film noir criticized. The “marrying woman” submitted to her domesticated role but dragged her husband down with her, making him the slave to the family. (Blaser)Within Touch of Evil, the traditional role of the “marrying women”, portrayed through Susan Vargas’ character, and the “femme fatale”, which was seen in Tanya, were altered, paralleling the concerns of the time and branching into the Post-Modernist aspects of the film. Susan Vargas’ character existed as the perfect wife: beautiful, intelligent, devoted to her husband: a devotion that appeared often as an entrapment. Tanya was a prostitute, living on the wrong side of the border and whose dusky figure was framed by dark hair, gypsy clothing and an air of sensuality. At initial inspection, both conformed to the stereotypical “marrying woman” and “femme fatale” expected in film noir. As Touch of Evil progressed, Susan was depicted as more of a threat to her husband, trying to dissuade him from his job, becoming a vulnerability by remaining by him when she should return to Mexico City, and Tanya, the classically destructive “femme fatale”, became the nurturing force that supported Quinlan and offered him safe haven. A systematic progression of analysis through the events and depictions of women in the film illustrates the importance of these roles to society’s worldview and leads into Post-Modernism. The opening scene of Touch of Evil introduced the main couple of Mike and Susan Vargas as a traditional and stereotypical pair of husband and wife who is about to witness an explosion, not only of Rudi Linnekar’s car, but of their own idealistic existence. The camera pans in a continuous shot past the ill-fated car to the Vargas couple. Mike Vargas has his arm around his new bride, leading her forward. He walks protectively with Mrs. Vargas on the inside towards the sidewalk as they walk down the street. When they arrive at the border it is Mrs. Vargas that identifies herself as “Mrs.” and who pulls her husband away from the car that has pulled up next the them. This illustrates the give and take in a relationship. As Susan and Mike cross the border for the first time, the border being representative of many things, they pause to exchange sweet talk and kiss. It is during this intimacy the explosion occurs, and the camera breaks for the first time. The combination of camera technique, cinematography and character interaction sets the scene for the movie and the conflict with the relationship of Mike and Susan. The border and the explosion combine to form the complimentary symbolism of the division between man and woman. Susan and Mike are literally from different countries as man and woman. They are physically from Mexico and America, but from psycho-social standpoint there are from different countries, or as pop culture would say, different planets: Mars and Venus respectively. Men are found in the “power” positions in the movie, specifically law enforcement. Besides Susan and Tanya, women are seen as objects of desire and adornment: the stripper in Rubi’s car, the “dancers” at the border club. The tensions that mount on the border zone grow as well in Mike and Susan’s marriage. “This isn’t the real Mexico. You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country” (Touch of Evil, 1958) The border brings out the extremes in people as well, and the different priorities Mike and Susan have in their relationship. The differences between the two manifest itself particularly in relation to Mike’s work. Susan can not understand why he can not abandon the investigation to return with her to their honeymoon. She can not understand why he can not devote his attention to her, embodying the “marrying woman” persona. These underlying problems come to head and are exposed in the explosion, revealed along the border. “One of the longest borders in the world is between your country and mine “(Touch of Evil, 1958) and by traveling that border the conflict between man and women is explored. The introduction of Quinlan and Tanya as a couple and foil of the Vargas’ is of a significantly different nature. Quinlan has been thoroughly articulated as a character through earlier footage before he darkens Tanya’s doorstep. The audience’s first view of Tanya is that of a dark haired, sensuous woman in some sort of ethnic garb with a cigar smoking from her full lips. She is a drastic contrast to the pale, blond Susan Vargas who stepped daintily next to her husband. Tanya’s sultry presentation is in part contrasted by an apron and pot, two domestic items that do not coincide with her image as “femme fatale” but allude to her nurturing presence later on. Tanya exists independently, she speaks with an accent alluding to foreign origins and ideals, including those held by society. She has heard the “explosion” but it was not on her side of the border. She is separate from the controversies surrounding the other characters in the film but existing outside the norms of society.Where Tanya ironically has a nurturing presence, that of Susan Vargas remains complex. Susan is not the quiet little housewife, but an independent sensuous newly wed. Her outfits reflect her innocence and good girl demeanor by being light of color but that is contrasted by their cut. Her conservative sweater and skirt outfit is overridden by the tightness of that sweater which accentuates Mrs. Vargas’ natural attributes. Her night ware at the hotel, a virginal white, is styled anything but. Mrs. Vargas is not unaware of her wiles, often tossing her coat over her shoulder and walking with a purposeful stride. Despite her marriage, she is very much still an independent woman. First and foremost, she crossed cultural norms to marry a Mexican despite the prejudices she had to have encountered. Her interaction with the Grandi boys on the street and her self-assured manner dealing with Uncle Joe support her natural tenacity. At the end of her meeting, she does become less assured, afraid even. Susan does in part rely on her husband, conforming there to stereotype, but she makes her own decisions such as to stay with him and go to a hotel across the border. Many of her decisions that effect her husband turn out to be detrimental and have awful consequences; by remaining she becomes a vulnerability to her husband particularly after what occurs at the hotel. In some respects, it seems that Mrs. Vargas independent ventures are “punished” sending her back to her husband and his care and protection. The independent women seen in the first half of the movie is reduced to sobbing in a jail cell, and later to her husband’s arms. Tanya in contrast remains alone, the effect Quinlan’s death on her concealed and ultimately true to herself. Susan is compromised, returned to the stereotype of the wife dependent on the husband. This deviation from typical film noir structure is inherent to the deviation into Post-Modernism.As Susan and Tanya illustrated in Touch of Evil, the film noir genre and its Modernist- Post-Modernist transitional concepts provide commentary on women and society. Within the garish lights, unusual angles and extreme characters found within the film noir genre, there is a distorted yet acutely accurate portrayal of what society views as the position of women.

Blaser, John. No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir. http://www.obs.net/Noir/ Hassan, Ihab. “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism.” Natoli & Hutcheon 273. Natoli, Joseph, and Linda Hutcheon. A Postmodern Reader. New York: State University of New York Press, 1993.Touch of Evil. Dir. Orson Welles. With Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles. 1958. 120 min.

The arts, whether through words, film, melody or watercolor, have always reflected the society that created them. Within these renditions, the role of the women holds a great importance. Women have long been seen as the silent backbone of the family, and the family is itself the most basic unit of society. The interaction of this unit, primarily between husband and wife, is the microcosm for the interplay of man and woman as a whole. The genre of film noir relied heavily on that intercourse to comment on society. The portrayal of women in Touch of Evil, essentially through the roles of Susan Vargas and Tanya, utilized the film noir genre and the concepts surrounding this juncture of Modernism and Post-Modernism to critique gender issues developed by the stereotypes of the time as to the woman’s place in the world.Film noir developed as a Modernist medium but Touch of Evil took place in the ambiguous territory between Modernism and Post-Modernism, an important and underlying facet in the foundation of it’s world view and importance to our analysis. Modernism, as defined by Hassan, is a vertical institution. It has a defined hierarchy, with reliance on a specific structure, synthesis and traditional symbolism. Looking at Lyotard, the reliance on a meta-narrative is present. The meta-narrative is just that, the grand narrative, the big story. The meta-narrative is very much like the Force in the Star Wars series by George Lucas but in this case it serves as the institution that verifies knowledge. Knowledge is the ever-present currency of humanity. Film noir was Modernist because it had a specific meta-narrative, a dark and macabre Force that connected the grand narratives with each other. It also relied on an untraditional structure that was standard for the genre and a particular brand of symbolism. Touch of Evil has a foundation within these norms of the film noir genre but through its deviations from those it also has Post-Modernist aspects. This is scene most specifically through the shift in imagery of the “marrying women” and “femme fatale”. An examination of film noir itself is required before an examination of these themes can continue.Film noir developed as a criticism of society prior to and following World War II that encapsulated the worldview through dark and often disturbing visual images and thematic content. According to most critics, film noir originated with the motion picture The Maltese Falcon in 1941 but the genre did not reach its height until the post war years. Film noir inherently questions and critiques current government and social institutions. One of its favorite targets was women, who represented a key component of the basic family structure, a microcosm for society. At the dawn of the film noir era, women were experiencing new freedoms brought about by the economic necessity created during World War which required women to work outside the home. This freedom transcended to other areas and women were no longer content to remain in their traditional stereotypes. In response, film noir created the “femme fatale”. By the time of Touch of Evil, women had again returned to the home while America was experiencing the baby boom and were increasingly seen as more of a threat towards men from their traditional role of expecting wife and mother. Again, film noir responded with a new role: the “marrying women”. (Blaser)Three types of women were represented through film noir in reference to the women existing in society: the “femme fatale”, the “good women” and the “marrying women”. The “femme fatale” was the most revolutionary of the women represented in film noir. She refused the traditional role of women in society. She denied marriage and reveled in sexual freedom. In fact her sensuality is one of her defining characteristics, coupled with her strength of character and fierce independence. The nature of the “good women” drastically contrasts this independence and strong will of the “femme fatale.” The “good women” embraces her traditional role and stereotype. She is what society wants the man to have, but on screen she is boring and unattractive in comparison to the “femme fatale”. The last woman to shadow the film noir is the “marrying woman”. Historically, the “femme fatale” was a reflection of those women who worked during the war and were reluctant to return to their humble labors within the home. In the late 40’s and into the 50’s a new woman emerged that film noir criticized. The “marrying woman” submitted to her domesticated role but dragged her husband down with her, making him the slave to the family. (Blaser)Within Touch of Evil, the traditional role of the “marrying women”, portrayed through Susan Vargas’ character, and the “femme fatale”, which was seen in Tanya, were altered, paralleling the concerns of the time and branching into the Post-Modernist aspects of the film. Susan Vargas’ character existed as the perfect wife: beautiful, intelligent, devoted to her husband: a devotion that appeared often as an entrapment. Tanya was a prostitute, living on the wrong side of the border and whose dusky figure was framed by dark hair, gypsy clothing and an air of sensuality. At initial inspection, both conformed to the stereotypical “marrying woman” and “femme fatale” expected in film noir. As Touch of Evil progressed, Susan was depicted as more of a threat to her husband, trying to dissuade him from his job, becoming a vulnerability by remaining by him when she should return to Mexico City, and Tanya, the classically destructive “femme fatale”, became the nurturing force that supported Quinlan and offered him safe haven. A systematic progression of analysis through the events and depictions of women in the film illustrates the importance of these roles to society’s worldview and leads into Post-Modernism. The opening scene of Touch of Evil introduced the main couple of Mike and Susan Vargas as a traditional and stereotypical pair of husband and wife who is about to witness an explosion, not only of Rudi Linnekar’s car, but of their own idealistic existence. The camera pans in a continuous shot past the ill-fated car to the Vargas couple. Mike Vargas has his arm around his new bride, leading her forward. He walks protectively with Mrs. Vargas on the inside towards the sidewalk as they walk down the street. When they arrive at the border it is Mrs. Vargas that identifies herself as “Mrs.” and who pulls her husband away from the car that has pulled up next the them. This illustrates the give and take in a relationship. As Susan and Mike cross the border for the first time, the border being representative of many things, they pause to exchange sweet talk and kiss. It is during this intimacy the explosion occurs, and the camera breaks for the first time. The combination of camera technique, cinematography and character interaction sets the scene for the movie and the conflict with the relationship of Mike and Susan. The border and the explosion combine to form the complimentary symbolism of the division between man and woman. Susan and Mike are literally from different countries as man and woman. They are physically from Mexico and America, but from psycho-social standpoint there are from different countries, or as pop culture would say, different planets: Mars and Venus respectively. Men are found in the “power” positions in the movie, specifically law enforcement. Besides Susan and Tanya, women are seen as objects of desire and adornment: the stripper in Rubi’s car, the “dancers” at the border club. The tensions that mount on the border zone grow as well in Mike and Susan’s marriage. “This isn’t the real Mexico. You know that. All border towns bring out the worst in a country” (Touch of Evil, 1958) The border brings out the extremes in people as well, and the different priorities Mike and Susan have in their relationship. The differences between the two manifest itself particularly in relation to Mike’s work. Susan can not understand why he can not abandon the investigation to return with her to their honeymoon. She can not understand why he can not devote his attention to her, embodying the “marrying woman” persona. These underlying problems come to head and are exposed in the explosion, revealed along the border. “One of the longest borders in the world is between your country and mine “(Touch of Evil, 1958) and by traveling that border the conflict between man and women is explored. The introduction of Quinlan and Tanya as a couple and foil of the Vargas’ is of a significantly different nature. Quinlan has been thoroughly articulated as a character through earlier footage before he darkens Tanya’s doorstep. The audience’s first view of Tanya is that of a dark haired, sensuous woman in some sort of ethnic garb with a cigar smoking from her full lips. She is a drastic contrast to the pale, blond Susan Vargas who stepped daintily next to her husband. Tanya’s sultry presentation is in part contrasted by an apron and pot, two domestic items that do not coincide with her image as “femme fatale” but allude to her nurturing presence later on. Tanya exists independently, she speaks with an accent alluding to foreign origins and ideals, including those held by society. She has heard the “explosion” but it was not on her side of the border. She is separate from the controversies surrounding the other characters in the film but existing outside the norms of society.Where Tanya ironically has a nurturing presence, that of Susan Vargas remains complex. Susan is not the quiet little housewife, but an independent sensuous newly wed. Her outfits reflect her innocence and good girl demeanor by being light of color but that is contrasted by their cut. Her conservative sweater and skirt outfit is overridden by the tightness of that sweater which accentuates Mrs. Vargas’ natural attributes. Her night ware at the hotel, a virginal white, is styled anything but. Mrs. Vargas is not unaware of her wiles, often tossing her coat over her shoulder and walking with a purposeful stride. Despite her marriage, she is very much still an independent woman. First and foremost, she crossed cultural norms to marry a Mexican despite the prejudices she had to have encountered. Her interaction with the Grandi boys on the street and her self-assured manner dealing with Uncle Joe support her natural tenacity. At the end of her meeting, she does become less assured, afraid even. Susan does in part rely on her husband, conforming there to stereotype, but she makes her own decisions such as to stay with him and go to a hotel across the border. Many of her decisions that effect her husband turn out to be detrimental and have awful consequences; by remaining she becomes a vulnerability to her husband particularly after what occurs at the hotel. In some respects, it seems that Mrs. Vargas independent ventures are “punished” sending her back to her husband and his care and protection. The independent women seen in the first half of the movie is reduced to sobbing in a jail cell, and later to her husband’s arms. Tanya in contrast remains alone, the effect Quinlan’s death on her concealed and ultimately true to herself. Susan is compromised, returned to the stereotype of the wife dependent on the husband. This deviation from typical film noir structure is inherent to the deviation into Post-Modernism.As Susan and Tanya illustrated in Touch of Evil, the film noir genre and its Modernist- Post-Modernist transitional concepts provide commentary on women and society. Within the garish lights, unusual angles and extreme characters found within the film noir genre, there is a distorted yet acutely accurate portrayal of what society views as the position of women. Works Cited Blaser, John. No Place for a Woman: The Family in Film Noir. http://www.obs.net/Noir/ Hassan, Ihab. “Toward a Concept of Postmodernism.” Natoli & Hutcheon 273. Natoli, Joseph, and Linda Hutcheon. A Postmodern Reader. New York: State University of New York Press, 1993.Touch of Evil. Dir. Orson Welles. With Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh, Marlene Dietrich and Orson Welles. 1958. 120 min.

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